Jaquelyn Pualani Johnson’s sophisticated mannerisms and poise are suited for the stage – especially in representing Queen Lili‘uokalani.
By Maria Karin Walczuk, Arts & Community Editor
The Hilo Community Players (HCP) celebrate their 75th year and running with the play The Trial of Lili‘uokalani which opened Sept. 6, and runs til Sept. 22, at the East Hawaii Cultural Center (EHCC). This historical drama, performed also in 1993 at the UH Hilo’s theatre, The Trial of Lili‘uokalani addresses the overthrow of Hawaii in 1895, with Jaquelyn Pualani Johnson carrying the cast as the queen. I sat down with Johnson to discuss her leading role.
How is it to perform the role of queen Lili‘uokalani?
“It is a huge responsibility. [Queen Lili‘uokalani] used her voice to express the truth of how she saw the world.” Within the text of the play, direct quotes from the trial and personal writings are utilized.
Johnson noted, “This play is not a celebration, but a commemoration to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, which has never appropriately been resolved.”
Johnson portrays the queen, a role indeed strongly and elegantly matched for this Chair, Director and Professor of UH Hilo’s Performing Arts department. Though Johnson modestly claims, “theatre [for me] fell into place.”
Having studied at UH Mānoa, UH Hilo and having attained her master’s degree in theatre at Boulder, Colorado, Johnson ultimately returned to Hilo. At the remarkable age of twenty-five, and also notably as a female, Johnson was welcomed on board to the Performing Arts department of UH Hilo. Since then, great lengths have been made in developing a solid university theatre ground.
As an adult, Johnson has connected with her own heritage, discovering with the change of time how Hawai`i is a place of great diversity and precious cultures. Furthermore, Johnson continually reconnects back with theatre.
As of now, what does theatre signify for you?
“It is my life; I live, breathe, eat [theatre]. It is a mirror to our human existence. A means of celebration…to understand [ourselves] through ritual…to be able to channel our expression.” With a solid thirty-four years contributing to the UH Hilo’s Performing Arts department, Johnson still carries high hopes for expansion. Great investment has been placed within the science fields here, yet Johnson hints that UH Hilo is a holistic place of study, “We are waiting for the pendulum to swing.”
The Trial of Lili‘uokalani is still being performed at East Hawaii Cultural Center (EHCC), 141 Kalakaua St., in downtown Hilo. Friday and Saturday evening shows start at 7 p.m. on September 20 and 21. The Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. on September 22. Individual tickets are $15 at the door, $10 in advance, and for students with ID; $5 for keiki 12 and under.
Stay tuned! The Hilo Community Players and UH Hilo are collaborating again on the upcoming Spoon River Project, set for early November.